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Legal aspects of User Charges on Global Environmental Goods

30 May 2005, Berlin


International airspace and the high seas are global environmental goods with traditionally unrestricted access. The ensuing environmental impact can be addressed through user charges for air- and sea-traffic. The project assesses legal conditions for the application of such charges in international, European Community and domestic law.


Global public goods are characteristic in that everyone has nearly unrestricted access (so-called "open access goods"). Airspace and the high seas are classical examples of such public goods. Since these goods are not subject to any form of governmental control, the rights to access and usage are insufficiently regulated. This regulatory gap contributes to an excessive use of such areas. As two principal forms of use of these public goods, increasing air and sea traffic are responsible for a substantial part of the current environmental impact.

With a view to these growing environmental impacts of air and sea traffic, different instruments of financial policy have been discussed as a means of reducing such impacts and achieving a more effective protection of global environmental goods. Among the instruments are user charges at the national, European and international level. A user charge is a financial instrument with the following characteristics:

  • the use of a certain good or right is made conditional on the payment of a charge;
  • the charge is paid in return for access to that good or right;
  • a certain behaviour should be guided (guiding effect)
  • and generate revenues for a certain purpose.

User charges on global environmental goods should have an ecological guidance effect and mobilise revenues for objectives of environmental policy. When implementing user charges in the area of air- and sea-traffic, the following options are available:

  • a levy on passenger tickets or freightage
  • fees on waterways and airports
  • earmarked charges on kerosene and fuel
  • distance-based tolls
  • the introduction of an emission-based user charge, especially for CO2 emissions (CO2 charge).

Project Objectives

Against this backdrop, the project will assess the legal framework governing the introduction of user charges in air- and sea-traffic. To this end, it draws on European Community law, international law, and constitutional law, with a focus on the former. The legal analysis comprises general issues raised by the implementation of user charges for global environmental goods, as well as specific issues relating to the design of user charges for air- and sea traffic. An outcome of this analysis will be specific and feasible recommendations for action. 


Workshop organised on behalf of:

German Federal Environmental Agency


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